One early breast cancer story among very many...

On 25th November 2021 lying during the night I found a lump in my left breast the size of a walnut and my first thought: “oh yes must be like the benign one my Mum had when she was 50”. The next morning I casually mentioned it to my husband who said “you will get this checked won’t you?”. So the same day I filled a form on my surgery’s website, was invited in person within a week to get it looked at, then referred to the hospital for further checks and biopsies before Christmas. Glad I’d acted quickly I just relaxed during the Christmas break until a letter arrived inviting me for an appointment on 5th which I promptly showed to my husband. Forever the optimist I just said: “wow that’s efficient” but my husband reacted very differently saying nothing much until, hours later, he  got into a blazing row with my best friend before admitting to her how worried he was about that letter from the hospital. His intuition was not far off the mark as it turned out to be a grade 2 ER+ invasive ducal breast cancer 27mm in size plus a 6mm bit on the side of the tumour, “very treatable” said the surgeon (with me being 60 years old and post-menauposal). I clicked with the surgeon straightaway because of her honesty. With my small breast and slim body, a lumpectomy plus reconstruction would not be easy, so after a  detailed conversation she suggested me taking Leztrozole for 3 months to see if it would shrink the cancer.  As by May there was no evidence that the cancer had shrunk, I decided to go for a mastectomy with semtinel lymph node biopsy in June. I healed well from the surgery but it the sentinel lymph node was positive (I.e. had a bit of cancer >2mm that broke through the lymph node capsule into the fatty tissue), so after more consultations with the surgeon I opted for an axillary lymph nodes clearance where another 9 lymph nodes were extracted from my little armpit and found to be cleared from cancer. That last news was a big relief andbeing told that an Oncotype DX genomic assay would be taken on a sample from the original biopsy, I went on a holiday to see my family with a light heart, hoping to approach the beginning of the end of that cancer story at least. I was telling everyone that “perhaps I’ll have a bit of radiotherapy then it will be the end”. I also contacted my line manager to arrange my return to work after the holiday. But on the day I returned in the UK, the surgeon rang to tell me that my Oncotype DX score with high at 41. For the first time I had a bit of a wobble because I knew already from looking on the Internet that this meant chemotherapy would be of benefit in minimising the risk of distant recurrence 5 or 10 years down the line. Up to that point I’d sailed through this cancer journey on a wave of optimism, with notions such as “chemotherapy” and “distant recurrence” out of the scope of my “older woman”'s relatively small and self contained breast cancer. So now my head is buzzing with questions while I’m checking my phone too often for the date an upcoming appointment with an oncologist to appear in my message feeds or the “My medical records” app. We live in interesting times where we still feel well while information derived from amazing imaging techniques, from clinical trials involving hundreds of thousands of women, is discussed by multidisciplinary teams of experts weeks on end, to support us in making decisions on pretty drastic treatments to negotiate potentially dangerous waters much further along the breast cancer journey. Although I’m a bit shaken by the high score, the reflections it triggers in me make me hugely grateful that there is so much background and support out there - including this forum - so that I feel far from alone in that breast cancer journey.

You are not alone. It sucks that you aren’t to be quite frank but yet there is comfort in the numerous women who have gone before you, are now with you, and will come after you. Breast cancer is indeed too common but the good news is they know tons about it, have numerous treatments, and that these numerous treatments have a great many things to control side effects. So in saying that, yeah, no one wants chemo. I’m on the middle of it right now and it’s not a good time. But to be honest I’m doing very well with it and know it. No nausea, no appetite issues and if anything I’m more hungry than I was, two really down days in my cycles but even those down days I’m able to do things and continue working. I do have some cumulative effects building up in the form of muscle reactions. I don’t like it but it’s hardly life changing since it’s not even remotely painful. Skin is aging somewhat but it’s hard to know whether that’s the chemo or just the chemo affecting my estrogen levels. First thing I’ll start working on when I’m done. So that’s it. Obviously side effects will differ depending on your chemo regimen but most people I think do okay. And it’s temporary. And as far as your high score, sometimes estrogen only tumors have them.  It’s not what anyone wants but the score is only supposed to reflect whether chemo is beneficial to you. With your score you can feel assured at least that it is, that it’s not wasted, and will do you a tremendous amount of good in making sure this thing never comes back. That’s not a horrible thing to know even as it means more treatment. 

Sorry to hear your story but breast cancer treatment is progressing since I was first diagnosed 19 years ago. I have just had a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. The operation was a success but I now have a very itchy rash called impetigo and look like i am suffering from leprosy. It’s very nasty to look at but will soon be gone. It causes no scarring either. 

Shame the results of my surgery don’t look quite as they should though!